County Kilkenny (Irish: Contae Chill Chainnigh) is in Southeast Ireland, historically in the province of Leinster. It's low-lying, with no coastline but with tidal rivers. Its scenery and medieval heritage are the main reasons to visit.
- 1 Kilkenny the county town is an attractive small city with a "Medieval Mile" of historic buildings.
- 2 Callan has a Norman Motte-and-bailey, a ruined abbey, and the childhood home of Edmund Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers.
- 3 Kells has a large ruined priory.
- 4 Thomastown is near Jerpoint Abbey, Kilfane Glen gardens and Mount Juliet golf resort.
- 5 Inistioge is an attractive little village near Woodstock Gardens.
- 6 Graignamanagh is a pleasant riverside town, with Duiske Abbey.
- 7 Castlecomer, industrial since medieval times, has the Discovery Park and a coal-mining museum.
- 8 Freshford has the remains of Ballylarkin Abbey.
- 9 Waterford city stands in its own county south of the River Suir. But some of its northern burbs lie in County Kilkenny, and places such as Piltown and Poulanassy waterfall are more easily reached from the city.
- 10 New Ross similarly stands across the River Barrow in County Wexford, but it includes Rosbercon on the Kilkenny west bank.
County Kilkenny is named for its county town, the city of Kilkenny (Cill Chainnigh, the church of St Canice). It's mostly low-lying, fertile, and (crucially) better drained than much of this famously boggy nation. It's bounded to the south by River Suir and to the east by River Barrow, with River Nore running down its centre. Although it has no coastline, its lower rivers are tidal, bringing in sea-farers who thought the area was worth grabbing for themselves. These included the Vikings, but their power was broken by the 11th century. It was the Normans from the 12th century who put their stamp on the place, founding many castles and abbeys, and defining the present county boundaries.
In the 17th century Kilkenny was effectively the national capital, as the Confederacy of Ireland threw off English rule. It lasted six turbulent years then Oliver Cromwell put an end to it in 1650. Thereafter the county was mostly at peace, though not untouched by the 1798 rebellion and the famine years. In the 19th century it became connected to Ireland's great superhighway: River Barrow was linked north to the Grand Canal, so sacks of coal and passengers in top hats could easily be moved between Dublin, the Midlands, Limerick and Waterford. Several other modes of communication have been invented since but the tow-horses on the Barrow only retired in 1920.
Castlecomer was industrial from medieval times because of its coal, but the county never became heavily industrialised, and its scenery was preserved. It's within easy reach of Dublin but remains mostly agricultural, with low hills and crumbling abbeys. The scenery and heritage, along with boating and angling, are County Kilkenny's main attractions today.
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Six trains a day run between Dublin Heuston and Waterford, via Kildare, Carlow, Bagenalstown, Kilkenny and Thomastown. Not all trains stop at the minor stations, so their service is two or three times a day. See Irish Rail for timetables, fares and online tickets.
JJ Kavanagh Bus 717 runs daily every two hours from Dublin Airport, Eden Quay and Heuston station to Kilkenny, Callan and Clonmel. One overnight and two daytime buses also stop at Naas, Athy and Castlecomer.
Expressway 4 runs every hour or two from Dublin Airport, Busáras and Heuston station, taking 2 hr 30 min via Carlow to Gowran racecourse and Thomastown and continuing to Waterford. It doesn't go through Kilkenny.
Bus Eireann 73 traverses the Midlands, twice M-Sa and once on Sunday, from Athlone to Clara, Tullamore, Mountmellick, Portlaoise, Stradbally, Carlow, Kilkenny, Thomastown, Ballyhale, Mullinavat and Waterford.
Slieve Bloom Coach 838 also runs twice M-Sa from Portlaoise to Castlecomer, Ballyragget and Kilkenny.
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Kilkenny and Thomastown are on the main transport corridor to Waterford, so you can get between them on the trains from Dublin and buses from Athlone.
Other places have at most a couple of buses a day M-Sa, radiating from Kilkenny with no cross-country links. Many sights of interest are some way out in the countryside, without even those sparse bus services. So you need your own wheels. Distances are not great and the terrain is level so a bike will do, but a car gets you out of the rain.
The patron saint of taxi drivers, St Fiacre, is believed to have governed a monastery at Bennettsbridge before moving to France and giving his name to the fiacre carriage. His sanctity may have outpaced his contribution to transport, and the denizens of that town were sufficiently unimpressed that they named it instead after Benet, St Benedict.
- Jenkinstown Park 10 km north of Kilkenny is an attractive forest park, carpeted by bluebells in April.
- Heritage Ireland manage five sites in the county. In 2021 a Heritage Card valid nationwide for one year costs adult €40, senior citizen €30, student or child €10, family (2+5) €90. Since the standard adult fee is €5, you need to visit eight of their sites to break even, and several sites are free to visit anyhow.
- - Jerpoint Abbey is a fine Cistercian ruin in Thomastown.
- - Kilkenny Castle is the imposing Norman Castle dominating Kilkenny.
- - Dunmore Cave is 11 km north of Kilkenny.
- - St Mary's Church in Gowran, 11 km east of Kilkenny, is 13th century.
- - Kells Priory 15 km south of Kilkenny is a remarkable fortified monastery.
- Ancient churches also include St Canice Cathedral and Black Abbey in Kilkenny, Duiske Abbey at Graignamanach, and Ballylarkin Abbey at Freshford.
- Coal mining was never common in Ireland, nevertheless its few seams were exploited since the Middle Ages, and Castlecomer has a mining museum. The Republic's only other example is away up north at Arigna Mines near Drumshanbo.
- Gardens: Woodstock near Inistioge has the finest.
- What's on? - tune into KCLR on 96 FM for news and events, or read Kilkenny People or Kilkenny Now.
- Brandon Hill near Graignamanagh is the highest mountain in the county, an easy climb of 515 m (1690 ft).
- South Leinster Way is a 102 km hiking trail from Kildavin in County Carlow to Carrick-on-Suir in County Tipperary. It follows the east bank of River Barrow to Graignamanagh, then traverses County Kilkenny via Brandon Hill, Inistioge, Glenpipe, Mullinavat, Templeorum, Piltown and finally Carrick-on-Suir.
- Gaelic games: Hurling is the dominant sport here, and the county team play at Nowlan Park in Kilkenny. There are some 40 GAA club teams across the county.
- Golf: the best known course is Mount Juliet in Thomastown. There are others in Kilkenny, Callan and elsewhere.
- Canal boats: the Barrow Navigation meets the Grand Canal (which is navigable from the Liffey in Dublin to the Shannon) at Robertstown in County Kildare. It courses south to Athy, Carlow, Bagenalstown, Graignamanagh and St Mullins, where it joins the tidal river down to New Ross, Waterford and out to sea. Check Waterways Ireland for current status of locks, moorings and so on. There are restrictions on how far rented boats may be taken from base, and they won't let you venture into tidal waters.
- Go with the Flow organise canoeing at various spots along the river near Kilkenny.
- Kilkenny has the widest selection in all price ranges. Rinuccini and Zuni are pricey but both get rave reviews.
- Near Thomastown, Mount Juliet golf resort has outstanding dining.
- In Graignamanagh, Devil's Menu is bespoke meals for groups, conjured up by the chef before your wondering eyes.
- Kilkenny city gave birth to Kilkenny Beer and Smithwick's Ale. Both are nowadays brewed in Dublin by Guinness-Diageo, but they're still worth sampling.
- Kilkenny pubs to try include Kyteler's, home to one of the first people in Europe to be persecuted as a witch, Cleere's which contains a theatre, and Left Bank stunningly redecorated after the bank left.
- All the small towns have trad pubs which are often the best place for eating, and Mick Doyle's in Graignamanagh will sort you out with fishing tackle.
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- The Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary was for centuries the seat of the Kings of Munster. Its ancient cathedral and round tower perch on a rock.
- To escape the landlocked Midlands for the seaside, head for beach resorts such as Dunmore East, Tramore and Courtown
- Waterford needs several days to explore for its Viking, medieval and Georgian heritage.